Mississippi St.-Vanderbilt Preview
By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN
(AP) -- There's no SEC scoring duo more dangerous than Vanderbilt's John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor.
Mississippi State found out last season how difficult it is to slow them down.
The Commodores look to remain undefeated in conference play with a ninth straight victory overall Saturday night when they host the No. 18 Bulldogs.
Vanderbilt (14-4, 4-0) and No. 2 Kentucky are the only teams yet to lose an SEC game. The Commodores, opening a three-game homestand, aren't too concerned with what the Wildcats are doing.
"We're not competing with Kentucky," center Festus Ezeli said. "Every day we come out and compete with ourselves, actually. We just come out and try to be the best we can be."
Jenkins leads the conference with a 19.8 scoring average and Taylor is third at 16.9. Both excelled last season as Vanderbilt went 2-0 against Mississippi State (15-4, 2-2), with Jenkins averaging 25.0 points on 53.6 percent shooting and Taylor averaging 22.5 and making 52.9 percent of his field-goal attempts.
The duo produced 37 points in Thursday's 69-59 win at Alabama, but coach Kevin Stallings credited a defensive effort that limited the Crimson Tide to 32.9 percent shooting with star forward JaMychal Green fouling out with six points.
"Our guys are very physical in there," said Stallings, whose team began 5-0 in the SEC two seasons ago. "It's nice to have big strong bodies to throw out there."
The biggest body is Ezeli, who will be called upon to use his 6-foot-11, 255-pound frame to slow down SEC leading rebounder Arnett Moultrie of the Bulldogs. The 6-11, 230-pound Moultrie, averaging 11.0 boards, is tied with Kentucky's Anthony Davis for the conference lead with 10 double-doubles.
Moultrie and Dee Bost form the SEC's second-highest scoring duo, combining for 32.1 points per game.
Mississippi State, though, turned in its second-worst shooting effort of the season at 37.7 percent in Wednesday's 75-68 loss at Mississippi. The Bulldogs' worst defensive field-goal percentage performances have come in SEC road games after they allowed the archrival Rebels to shoot 50.0 percent.
"It just comes down to toughness," freshman guard Rodney Hood said. "We haven't been playing our type of basketball on the road. We have to play with toughness, we have to get stops consecutively, they've been getting baskets too easy on us and it's something we have to work on."
The Bulldogs, who have dropped their last three visits to Vanderbilt, allowed a season-worst 30 free throws Wednesday. They lead the SEC in yielding the fewest attempts at the line at 13.7 per game.
Bost, averaging 2.2 steals to rank second in the conference, could spend some time defending Jenkins on Saturday. Bost averaged 17.0 points on 36.7 percent shooting along with 8.5 assists last season against the Commodores.
Mississippi State probably doesn't know what to expect from Renardo Sidney, who had 17 points and nine boards against the Rebels. Sidney had contrasting games last season versus Vanderbilt, fouling out with six points in an 81-74 loss Jan. 27 and scoring 22 in 18 minutes of an 87-81 defeat March 11 in the SEC tournament.
Updated January 20, 2012